If Putin Dies

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Buh bye?

Is Vladimir Putin dead?

Who knows?

What’s clear is that something has been going on in Moscow for at least a week, and whatever it is, the Kremlin prefers that it remain a secret. Russian reporters – a vastly more intrepid and courageous group than their colleagues in most countries – have been razzing Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov by alluding to Boris Yeltsin’s famous disappearances, and Peskov, usually an able front man, seems a bit wrong-footed at the moment.

Rumors abound: Putin has been removed, Putin has cancer, Putin had a stroke, Putin’s girlfriend had a baby. (On that last one, I’m not sure why Putin’s squeeze giving birth would cause him to vanish for a week; he’s not the kind of guy who seems all that concerned with paternity leave.) The hashtag “Putin has died” is trending like crazy on Russian twitter, but that means exactly zip in a country that thrives on conspiracy theories.

There are darker rumors as well: Putin is hunkering down with his high command and preparing something awful, either for the West in the form of all-out war in Ukraine, or for his own people as he goes to the mattresses as part of intra-Kremlin warfare after the shocking murder of Boris Nemtsov. Let’s not think about that until we have to.

This is one place where my expertise in Russian affairs gives me no special insight, and my guess at this point isn’t much better than anyone else’s. For what it’s worth, I don’t see the movement of personnel and forces that would signal a coup; that doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but coups don’t normally take nearly two weeks to sort out, especially not when run by the rough boys of the Russian military and security services.

If I had to bet, I’d say Putin is ill, and perhaps gravely so, and the white noise coming out of the Kremlin represents a kind of holding pattern while everyone sorts out favors, bribes, threats, and all the other ugly stuff that goes with a Moscow succession.

So what happens if Putin actually dies? There are some legal and political realities to consider. None of what I’m about to say is a prediction, but rather a roadmap of possible alternatives.

First things first. There is actually a Russian constitution, and as hard as it is to believe, Putin and his gang haven’t made a habit of violating it. (They’ve worked around it and gutted the spirit of the thing, but that’s a different matter.) If Putin dies, there is a clear short-term procedure: the Russian Prime Minister becomes Acting President. There is no Russian vice-president; when Yeltsin’s veep led a coup against him, that job was flushed out of the Russian political system in the 1993 rewrite of the constitution.

Putin’s team knows this article of the constitution well, because it’s how Putin himself became Acting President in 1999 when Yeltsin resigned. In this case, executive power will fall on Dmitry Medvedev, who has already held the job during the brief break from power Putin took between 2008 and 2012. As Acting President, Medvedev can govern for 90 days while organizing new elections. There isn’t much else he can do; the Russian constitution has a built-in firewall against Acting Presidents dissolving the legislature or monkeying around with any referenda.

What’s interesting is what happens next. Who runs in the new election? Medvedev is a known quantity, he’s held the job, and he’s not unpopular. He’s also well-known in the West. (He’s the guy to whom President Obama made his infamous “flexibility” gaffe.) It’s hard to imagine who else steps up, but a lot depends on how long Putin has been ill. If this is a sudden crisis like a stroke, then there’s a lot of deal-making going on right now, including arrangements for immunity, movement of money, and a general exchange of promises about who’s not going to prosecute whom.

The default in this case will likely be Medvedev, who was definitely pushed down the ladder when Putin returned to power, but who, as Prime Minister and a former president, knows where a lot of bodies are buried and who is owed more than a few favors.

If Putin’s been ill for a while, however, and this is just the endgame of something like cancer, then it’s a different ballgame, and we can expect that those deals have already been made. Expect to see the usual suspects in the security and military forces moving some chairs around while the farce of a new election is organized according to previous arrangements. In that case, Medvedev again is the likely choice for another term, although in a weakened condition, since these deals will have been made when the Boss was alive and healthy.

Finally, if this really was a coup, then I’m having trouble figuring out who arrested whom. Did Putin finally scare the people around him so badly – with loose talk, for example, about nuclear weapons – that they’ve removed him before he gets them all killed and turns Russia into a wasteland? I find that doubtful; some of Putin’s generals are just as hard-line as Putin himself, and their genetic deference to authority will not allow them to hose the Boss just because of a piddling war in Ukraine.

If Putin was removed by people more hard-line than Putin, I’d like to know who those guys are, because “more hard-line than Putin” is pretty much synonymous with “psychopath.”

So, at this early stage, my bet is illness, perhaps a chronic condition that has now turned unexpectedly into an acute and perhaps terminal health crisis. But I don’t know, and neither does anyone else outside the walls of the Kremlin. Stay tuned.

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41 comments

  1. This makes as much sense as anything I’ve read or seen, which isn’t a lot, given that the MSM is not replete with scholarly Russia watchers and most often prefers to be caught up in the latest Washington buzz(kill). The part about Putin hunkering down with his command staff is particularly troubling, though, given the fecklessness of the Obama regime to confront the reality of Putin and Europe’s inherent inability to confront him (as in, with *what* military? Who’s got the force structure or the nerve?). I also agree that the coup scenario isn’t very likely but if that turns out to be the case, Tom’s right in that a regime worse than Putin’s is a potential death knell for the world.

    • I agree, the Putin in ‘Wolf’s Lair’ scenario is perhaps one of the most interesting ones. Let’s speculate on that for a moment. What if Russia were going to unleash a full scale invasion of Ukraine? Stratfor did a rather entertaining analysis on this a few days ago – see https://www.stratfor.com/video/wargaming-russias-military-options-ukraine though they followed it up with a very tactical level analysis on US-NATO response options which was a bit dissapointing due to the absence of strategic thought and the total absence of considering Russian escalation (see https://www.stratfor.com/sample/analysis/what-west-could-do ). Personally, I doubt that the US or NATO would respond to a Russian military campaign to grab all of eastern and southern Ukraine up to the Dneiper (which is what the first Stratfor link seems to suggest is possible) by intervening militarily in Ukraine as the second Stratfor analysis suggests, but the Russians could not assume there would be no response. So, maybe they are preparing for a ‘big show’ in Ukraine that could potentially touch off a direct Russia-NATO clash. If that were the case I doubt Putin would be carrying on with the daily business as usual in the Kremlin – all his attention would be focused on the possibility of a major war looming.

      Let’s just speculate that a new Russian offensive in Ukraine did see some sort of NATO response. Once again, I need to emphasize that I doubt this would happen. I don’t think Obama would have the balls to confront the Russians eyeball to eyeball, and I don’t think Europe is unified or has the resolve to do so without the Americans. But let’s just say for argument’s sake there was a response. A conventional military conflict in Ukraine between Russia and NATO could escalate very quickly indeed and whilst the Russians might have an immediate and regional military advantage, over time the correlation of forces would inevitably change in NATO’s favour if Russia refrained from attacking NATO air bases and ports to prevent reinforcement. The Russians in this scenario would face three options – eventual defeat in Ukraine; conventional escalation by attacking NATO directly to prevent rapid reinforcement; or a rapid move to ‘nuclear de-escalation’. Ukraine is a core interest to Moscow and I don’t see how Putin could accept defeat and rollback at the hands of NATO forces and stay in power. That could bring on the very coup that is one of the other (more likely) explanations for his absence. So Russia either escalates conventionally by attacking NATO’s rear to raise the cost of the conflict to unacceptable levels and prevent a NATO operational success in Ukraine, or he looks at the ‘nuclear de-escalation’ option.

      The Russians talk openly about this option – the use of a single or small number of nuclear weapons to bring a conventional conflict to a close on terms favourable to Russia. Would a Russian nuclear attack – say with one weapon detonated in a manner to cause minimal casualties and destruction have the desired strategic effect of forcing NATO to pause and reconsider continuing a conventional battle? Or would NATO be forced to respond in kind? It’s impossible to know how they would respond if the nuclear precipice were actually crossed for the first time since 1945. The Russians would know this too, and would have to be prepared for NATO counter-responses. If NATO did back off quickly, it would be a huge strategic victory for Russia because NATO credibility would be utterly gone. But is that worse than an escalating series of nuclear exchanges? The Russians could not guarantee that NATO would blink. NATO might call Moscow’s bluff and fire a nuclear warning shot back in response, and then the ball is in Moscow’s court.

      Now, here’s the interesting thing. At the moment the Russians have NO functioning missile early warning satellites. The last one failed a few weeks back. So they are entirely dependent on ground-based radar (their equivalent of BMEWS) to detect a nuclear attack from the West. That means they are not well placed to fight a nuclear war in a traditional sense. But if they had to do it now or in the next few weeks, would it not make sense for them to carry out a decapitation strike against key US and NATO political and military leadership, as well as nuclear command and control, in order to throw any nuclear response from the US into utter dissarray and maybe make it completely ineffective? If I were a Russian nuclear planner that’s what I’d be thinking – fight asymmetrically to turn inferiority into advantage, even at the nuclear level.

      So, if we are talking about the ‘less likely’ scenario of Putin preparing for some major escalation in Ukraine (or elsewhere – the Baltics?) that would have to entail preparation for potential nuclear war. All those Russian training missions with their bombers, and the nuclear command and control exercises in recent months would fit in with that.

      Would this actually happen? I doubt it, and I think Tom’s assessment that Putin is ill is probably the most likely explanation, or the possibility of a palace coup. But if we don’t think about the unthinkable, then the unthinkable has a bad habit of biting us on the ass when we least expect it. If I were in STRATCOM, I’d be watching Russia’s nuclear forces and their message traffic very carefully.

      • This is quite horrific. Hopefully our American/Western military planners have realistic game plans at hand.

        The questions it leaves in my mind are how any aggressive Russian military gamers would reckon to subjugate a significant chunk of territory and keep it subdued. It seems obvious to me that the local population would receive covert Western/Ukrainian support for ongoing sabotage and rebellion, with tremendous costs over a period of years for the Kremlin.

        Another question for me is how Beijing would respond. Would they take a sign of American/Western hesitation in Eastern Europe as a green-light for further expansion in the East/South China Seas? Or would they play a diplomatic game against the Kremlin — voicing objections on the global stage to a Ukrainian invasion — while cagily eyeing an opportunity to grab territory in Russia’s Asian east for more direct access to the mineral and fuel wealth? As opportunistic as Beijing has been, I wonder if they could suppress the urge to push on Russia’s east when Russian forces are completely focused on their own west.

        • I doubt China would take advantage of this situation by attacking Russia. Its advantageous for China to bring Moscow closer, through energy deals and quiet support in the UNSC. The Chinese still want some choice pieces of Russian military kit so they reverse engineer and build their own versions. The Su-35 Super Flanker; the Kalina class submarine; access to better aero-engine technology; and Russian ASW expertise and technology, are at the top of the Chinese wishlist to fill gaps in their defence industrial capabilities. I am sure that Beijing is still thinking long-term about the resource wealth of Siberia, and their ‘one belt one road’ concept of Silk Road peripheral diplomacy is seeing them focus more on Central Asia for the present. I don’t think they would toss all that aside by making a land grab, and I think the Chinese know the Russians would not let them take chunks of Siberia without hitting them hard.

          A visiting Chinese professor was at our University a few weeks back and he and I were having a discussion about the rapid deterioration of Russia-West relations. He is well connected with the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. His thoughts were that from the Chinese perspective, the situation emerging between Russia and the West is very worrying, and a lot of Chinese regard Putin with concern in terms of what Putin’s intentions are. I asked him what China would do if the situation between Russia and the West continues into a prolonged period of conflict – or worse, ends up in a military clash. His response was that China would back away from supporting either side, and would look after its own interests. Would this mean that they would take the opportunity to grab the Diaoyu-Senkaku Islands or reunify Taiwan, or grab the Spratly Islands? He felt the answer was no, and that China would have too much to lose by exploiting the situation in that way. China is focused on strengthening regional integration with states along its periphery, and has too much to gain through that route by a rash action now.

          • The Chinese professor’s view of China’s current attitudes regarding the Russia-West relationship and China’s anticipated actions/non-actions should the situation between the West and Russia devolve further is consistent with everything I’ve read. China will always primarily look after its own interests, as all nations tend to do, but the Chinese leadership wants stability more than anything else, internally and otherwise.

      • I saw that Stratfor piece and, like you, was unconvinced. I can’t see any scenario where Putin launches a conflict wider than Ukraine, even with Obama as CinC and an economically weak and militarily disjointed EU. Then again, Putin’s window of opportunity is closing (January 2017); like us, he has no idea who Obama’s successor is going to be so he may be thinking now’s the best time to act.

        • Interesting to consider… how would Hillary Clinton handle this? How would Rand Paul? or Jeb Bush? To be honest, none of them – Democrat or Republican – inspire confidence in me in terms of how they will handle an aggressive Russia. I’m not an American and I won’t be voting in the US election, and I’m not aligned to any one party. But whoever the next President is, he or she has their work cut out for them on the international stage: an aggressive expansionist Russia threatening European security and raising the risk of a major power (potentially nuclear) conflict; an assertive and confident China that is seeking to challenge US strategic primacy in Asia; intensifying Chinese-Japanese rivalry over some rocks in the sea; the sure but steady collapse of nuclear non-proliferation that will be focused on the Middle East and a hegemonic Iran on the nuclear threshold; rampant trans-national Islamist threats with Islamic State the worst of a very bad bunch; a weak and divided EU; strategic failure likely in Afghanistan; an utter loon with nukes in North Korea…. would I want the job? Not in a million years!

          • Right. It will all come down to whom they surround themselves with. Obama’s foreign policy team is not serious, never has been and never will be. It’s all (left-wing) politics, all the time. For the record, Clinton was a part of this non-serious foreign policy team. Her disastrous handling of Benghazi disqualifies her, or ought to, from the role of commander-in-chief.

            • I don’t know the details of the Benghazi incident beyond the losses of Americans, and of course the partisan politics around the aftermath to judge. But unless something major turns up in ‘Emailgate’ Hilary is going to be the Democrat candidate, and so must be considered a potential President. I’d take her over Obama – I think she’d be a stronger leader on many issues, but you are right to be cautious and I’d be cautious on all of them.

      • Ukraine is not a member of NATO. I failed to see why we should do anything in that scenario.

        • I think it highly likely we won’t, beyond maybe sending defensive lethal aid. If Russia were to attack a NATO state I think that our response would be very different (I’d hope). But I agree, it seems highly unlikely that NATO would intervene militarily to fight the Russians in Ukraine.

  2. Personally, I hope that Bloodimir Ratface Putler Khuylo and his man-boobs are burning in hell.

    I doubt that anyone would worship the psycho’s man-boobs in hell

    Maybe someone slipped him some polonium

    Or maybe he ate too many Roshen chocolates – you know, the ones from Ukraine that were “banned in Rasha” as being “hazardous to health”

    one can only hope

  3. I doubt that if Putin were going to go totally balls out he would drop out of sight first. It’s too big an indicator. Granted, he would be spending a lot of time planning, but I think that he would at least be making appearances to maintain the appearance of normality. I estimate it’s one of two things; medical or political. Medical isnt worth mentioning since a binary situation, but political is interesting. I read somewhere a while back that Putin may actually WANT to step down as Russian leader, but is unable to. Assuming for a moment that there are people in the Russian gov’t as “hard line” as Putin is I’d say it’s a fair bet that if he did want to step down and transfer power to a lieutenant he would have a big problem. He’s got his AARP card, a couple hundred billion, and knows where all the bodies are buried for the last 30 years. You don’t just get to walk away from that. My guess would be he’s under pressure from hardline generals to return Ukraine to the fold. I think he knows if he does that he’s done. Period. The west will eat him alive. But if he doesn’t his generals will. So he either has to solidify the position of his successor and make damn sure of it, or stay in power. If he gave indications of a potential handoff coming he would be vulnerable if the necessary steps weren’t taken before hardline elements in his government realized what he was doing. I think he’s in a lose-lose right now, and if I had to guess I think he might be busy having the hardline elements whacked, only to emerge with a new, more tolerant policy toward the west, and few extra scalps on his belt. That way, when he rides off into the sunset those who might make trouble will look at the recent graves (or lack thereof) and possibly reconsider, especially if he can put a solid, trusted successor in power.

    • “My guess would be he’s under pressure from hardline generals to return Ukraine to the fold. I think he knows if he does that he’s done. Period. The west will eat him alive. But if he doesn’t his generals will.”

      But would the West ‘eat him alive’? My post above was based on some Stratfor ramblings about how Russia and the West might come to blows. I think if they actually did then that chain of events I sketch out is probably quite reasonable, but I’m tipping that short of Russia actually attacking NATO, perhaps by launching hybrid war in the Baltics (BTW – interesting take on this at this link – http://t.co/Tywv9zGsas in relation to the importance of Gotland ), NATO won’t act.

      So he could do a major invasion of Ukraine – and take everything up to the Dnieper, and what would our response be? Certainly harsh words at the UN. Maybe tougher sanctions for sure. Diplomatic isolation absolutely. But would we take the next step of providing arms to the Ukrainians now having lost half their country? I don’t think so, in spite of the fact that many in Congress (and also the Administration) are supportive of that, because the man at the top says ‘no’. There is no way around Obama’s choice on this. I don’t see NATO intervening for the fear of the escalatory dynamics which I outlined originally.

      So maybe he can grab more of Ukraine and he figures he can get away with it. I think that would be it in terms of any return to the status-quo ante – we’d be in a new Cold War or worse, a ‘hot peace’, for the foreseeable future.

      So maybe Putin is ill, or dead, and those are the more likely prospects – but the scenario that does worry me is that he is ensconsed with his generals in Kuntsevo and something is in the works. I hope the Russians won’t be so stupid as to try their luck in the Baltics. They may down the track, but not right now. If it is an escalation in Ukraine the question in my mind is ‘how big’ and ‘when’?

      • He’d certainly have a head start on NATO. NATO could not back down and conventionally after a slow start NATO would eat Russia alive. No sane leader, Putin or other, goes into conflict knowing they are going to be crushed. If the nuclear path as trod, all bets are off. I agree with you about China not backing either side though. Lets just hope the MAD doctrine keeps all these hot heads in their place and sanity prevails.

        • I agree – in the end the tables would turn and NATO would have a significant advantage if it were a straight conventional battle. But you certainly have to factor in the possibility of nuclear escalation – the Russians would refer to it as ‘nuclear de-escalation’ – whereby if the Russians are losing badly in Ukraine, they might launch a demonstrative nuclear strike to give NATO pause for thought. Given how divided Europe is on responding to Russia’s campaign in Ukraine, I think they would backpedal very quickly if a small tactical nuclear weapon were detonated somewhere away from NATO forces or civilian areas as a political signal from Moscow – ‘the next one will kill lots of your forces’. A warning shot was an idea discussed by NATO as a response to a Warsaw Pact invasion during the Cold War, and now, the tables have turned and its Russia who is thinking warning shots.

          So maybe Putin could gamble that Russia would always have escalation dominance over a divided West. Would Obama, Merkel, Cameron and Hollande really be prepared to take things to the nuclear precipice? I doubt it very much. But Putin might. He could use that assurance to be ambitious at the conventional level in Ukraine and take more. Start with Mariupol, and drive west towards Odessa to link up with the Russian forces in TransDneister; use Hybrid warfare in Kharkiv. I think these are the two most likely ‘next steps’ in my view.

      • I can’t see an all out attack in Ukraine as he doesn’t need the push back with further sanctions and even maybe the increased military costs with Ukraine being supplied with Western defensive weapons. His current piecemeal annexation is working fine with the US and EU effectively endorsing it. With each round of Minsk talks he gets major political concessions from Kyiv under pressure for a quiet FP life for Obama / Merkel / Hollande, which he then banks, ready for the next round on his political and territorial ratchet. It also works well with their military system of using vast amounts of artillery / Grad ammunition and relatively high losses in annexing further territory, pausing, resupply and rotating troops while slowing down the conflict with the latest Minsk I / II…III/IV/V etc. ceasefire.

        With the current military buildup the next major thrust is most likely to be annexing Mariupol either through a direct attack (but the high civilian casualties may create some sort of Western sanctions / defensive weapons response), so he is more likely to isolate it and then let it fall through a siege. The latter would fit well with further intense Western talks in Minsk, due to the humanitarian situation in Mariupol, more political concessions for Putin, including the surrender of Mariupol, a broken ceasefire, resupply, ready for the next annexation, which will then probably north of Luhansk and maybe even as far as Kharkiv, providing it stays under the West’s more than token response threshold.

        The question then becomes where is the West’s real redline? Has Putin got a free hand in all of Ukraine to Poland, does it go all the way to the Oder river, where Merkel has stated she will not supply weapons to any country east of this. Will ‘little green men dressed as civilians’ supporting unrest in the Baltic countries be below a sensible NATO military response or on a faster timescale than they can intervene on? Putin could then play the card of the peacemaker (like when it suits him in Syria), where there will be peace at the price of Russian speaking special areas. Putin could then do more rounds of this providing it stays below the Obama / Merkel / Hollande threshold of having to make real hard difficult FP decisions, which their electorates will not like and will cost their parties votes in the future!

        Poland’s latest military doctrine is based upon the US not coming to Poland’s aid. Despite Obama’s speech in Estonia, the countries on the frontline see a credibility gap in US FP between words and effective actions.

        Having read the Budapest Memorandum and NATO’s Article 5, the best a country might get from either is sanctions and talking about it in the UN Security Council, which is useless as Russia will always veto anything against their interests. They are both only as good as the politicians with the power behind them. Obama’s ‘Strategic Patience’ of doing nothing, as it will all be all right eventually is IMO a tyrants charter and is proving a disaster for world stability.

        Hitler could have been stopped in the Rhineland and wasn’t, which lead to WWII. The people left to write the history after WWIII will look back and ask the question: With Putin’s domestic political weakness as far as Russian casualties is concerned, why did the West not supply defensive weapons, so he was stopped in Ukraine?

        • Great Analysis – I’d say the real red line has to be the Baltics as the most likely target for Russia if Putin does continue beyond Ukraine. He could grab the rest of Georgia and I don’t think NATO would respond, but if Russia intervenes into the Baltics then I think it would have to respond militarily, or see its credibility gone.

          • Thinking about this some more. The crux of the issue is that most Western leaders want peace at any price, that is not a cost to their or their parties re-electability, whereas Putin, now his economy has tanked, has had to press the ‘nationalist button’ from page one of the ‘dictators guide to survival’. He wants the polar opposite of war at any acceptable cost that keeps him in power.

            The key has therefore got to be how we continue to attack him on his weaknesses that does not too much damage to Western economies and their politicians electability.

            On this basis the sanctions so far make sense, but so does the cost of increasing Russian casualties if he continues to ignore Minsk II. We can see from opinion polls and him hiding casualties, they are a sensitive political issue that will affect his domestic political standing. The balance is going to be to grind Eastern Ukraine to a stalemate. The only way I can that this can be done is through supplying defensive weapons and training for increasing a partisan presence in the Donbas region.

            The West has learn some hard lessons on taking and keeping territory and the Russians did in Afghanistan as well. There is a balancing act here on countering Putins aggression and increasing the cost of his presence in the Donbas region and I don’t think the West has got the balance right so far, where they have been too slow to react, so Putin has always had the initiative and the response, when they come, are too weak.

            One thing I’ve learn from the Ukraine conflict is that the Kremlin will escalate in small amounts, like sending 3 tanks across the border, an attack on a Russian-Ukrainian border post or letting journalist see a Russian military convoy move into Ukraine to test the West’s reaction. When there is none, they really escalate. We need much faster, much more proactive responses if we are to play Putin on level terms at his ‘games’. The same also applies to some of the rhetoric coming out of the Kremlin, floating ideas to get and test the West’s reaction and responses.

  4. >*If Putin was removed by people more hard-line than Putin, I’d like to know who those guys are, because “more hard-line than Putin” is pretty much synonymous with “psychopath.”*

    I’ve be reading this a lot.

    Putin is hardline why exactly?

    The US literaly invades and occupies countries to protect their interests, even under false pretexts like WMD etc. Countries 10.000 miles away or more, like Vietnam or like Iraq.

    And Russia does some meagre attempts to protect their interests in an area with 60% Russia population and right next to its borders (Crima), when that country had a coup that threw the legitimate president out and include pro-nazi groups in power…

    Which is 500% more benign in comparison…

    I also read about cronyism — people living in a glasshouse with ex-Bush government members having multi-billion corporations profiting from the wars, or ex-secretaries of state and such working for industry lobbies after their terms are over, should not throw stones. Nor should people giving 1 trillion bailouts to their friends in Wall Street.

    In fact, the problem with cronyism in Russia was far worse in the nineties with Yeltsin (that’s when those oligarchs got their money and power) but the US was OK with it because Yeltsin was mostly a friendly lackey, selling national resources to foreign powers on the cheep — and they pine for someone just like that.

    Or maybe it’s because of those laws against gay marriage and such? Even if that’s problematic, not sure how that’s any worse than a country that still has laws (and executes) capital punishment. Or that has the largest incarceration rate in the world, the majority of which is blacks. Does that make US politicians “psychopaths” too, and all those citizens who relish on the idea of capital punishment, or who “talk to God”?

    • Walter your obviously in favor Of communist dictators
      The United states returned Afghanistan and Iraq to their people As promised.And we went there because we were attacked.It’s hard to compare that to a communist land grab crimea will be annexed By Russia.Iran has more influence in Iraq than the U.S .Your argument Is ludicrous.although I think most wars should be avoid the only country that supports Russia invading Crimea is the Dprk

    • This Malcolm Davis pundit is having a psychopathy problem himself, he’s obviously a Washington line-toeing pool writer who softly ladles up the propaganda, hiding behind smokescreen of pseud-informative GuessBS (TM). The psychopathic mob, if it exists, is rather to be found on the Nuland Neocon side in this mess, certainly not among the Russian.

      But let’s see see what Smiling Malcolm writes up above, “…would it not make sense for them to carry out a decapitation strike against key US and NATO political and military leadership, as well as nuclear command and control, in order to throw any nuclear response from the US into utter dissarray and maybe make it completely ineffective? If I were a Russian nuclear planner that’s what I’d be thinking – fight asymmetrically to turn inferiority into advantage, even at the nuclear level.”

      See what I mean, that would mark such a hypothetic Russian “nuclear planner” as a clean-cut psychopath. But wait, who is the only non-hypothetic part in this game of words ? Aha.
      It takes a psychopath to know one, Malcolm dahling ?
      Or was “dissarray” the deliberate, sardonic sort of typo ?

      • Jo Ann, take a pill. We’re all spitballing here, and that’s the point. Malcolm’s views are as good as anyone’s.

        • Many thanks JD for your comment. I DO appreciate it. I shall now respond to Jo Ann’s accusations.

      • Ah Jo Ann, was waiting for someone to lash out because I was daring to think outside of the box and ask ‘what if?’

        “This Malcolm Davis pundit is having a psychopathy problem himself, he’s obviously a Washington line-toeing pool writer who softly ladles up the propaganda, hiding behind smokescreen of pseud-informative GuessBS (TM).”

        Amazing how so many times I encounter people on various website comment sections who make the assumption that of course I’m an American neocon establishment figure, clearly linked into Republican Tea Party power elite…

        Actually there are people on the internet who are not US citizens. I’m one of them. For your information, I’m an Australian. I am a university lecturer, and I teach Strategic Studies and Security Studies at Bond University, which is located on Australia’s Gold Coast, about 50km south of Brisbane, near the New South Wales border. Its rather pleasant – about 30 km of fantastic beaches, subtropical climate, very touristy. Bond is nice too – look it up on the web. If you go to the Faculty of Society and Design (hate that title, but the current Vice Chancellor decided to change the name from Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, and nothing we could do about that), you’ll find me listed amongst the International Relations academic staff. I’m currently finishing up a book on Chinese military modernisation, and I teach postgraduate students.

        So no, I don’t know Victoria Nuland, and I’m no psychopath. I’m a strategic analyst, and someone who is interested in current developments in the world, just like everyone here on this website. I have a particular interest in things happening in Russia at the moment, and also nuclear strategy – hence my comments. Hope that explains my position to you?

        As for my comment re the hypothetical Russian nuclear planner, it is often a good idea in my line of work to try to see things from the other side’s perspective rather than only seeing it through the prism of a Western or US cultural/social/political/security outlook. If you put yourself in the shoes of a Russian military planner facing the potential prospect of a growing confrontation with the West over Ukraine, he/she would have to ask themselves ‘how does this end? how might it escalate? How should we react? How can we win?’ That’s not being a psychopath – that’s asking the right questions as a strategic analyst. I can GUARANTEE you that there are Russian analysts asking the same questions right now, and thinking about escalatory possibilities. They would most definitely be considering these issues if there is a problem with Putin.

        You now can take your foot out of your mouth Jo Ann.

  5. Overlooked: With Putin gone, no one will ever learn the contents of Hilary’s emails. Coincidence? I think not!

    🙂

    Thanks for this, as well as your lively and entertaining Tweet-stream. This once-aspiring Sovietologist appreciates your analysis. Let us all pray that the worst-case scenarios don’t unfold.

  6. This piece of writing is obviously serving a purpose, I have no issues on that. Cannot find any evidence of journalism all over it, though. Simply amazing: usually at least a tiny bit is kept to substantiate projections. Has to be the new paradigma, I guess. Auld propaganda was bearing some degree of scholarship. “O tempora, o mores”.

    • Tom is an analyst and an academic. In academia, you convey analysis via the written word. Don’t confuse academic analysis with journalism.

  7. When I called on Putin at The Kremlin this past week they gave me the run-around. I will pay a visit again next week for a third time. I didn’t win Salesman of the Year three times already for nothing.

  8. Good article but… “Russian reporters – a vastly more intrepid and courageous group than their colleagues in most countries”. Really? Tell me this is sarcasm.

    • Considering how many of them have been killed trying to do their jobs, there’s not an iota of sarcasm in what I said. They work in conditions that would scare the crap out of most Western journos.

      • At the time of writing this has something like 900 shares. I want to ask if you have a count of the total number of people who have read this piece. Totally random,I know, but I just want to know

        • Many thousands. But it’s been reprinted at Business Insider as well as other publications including the Kyiv Post, so I assume quite a lot of people have read it.

      • My bad. I believed you were referring to “journalists” like from Russian state media who only serve the Russian government.

  9. Great article. One thing though, the title.
    I understand why but the key thing is not “IF” but “WHEN” Putin dies and that is inevitable. Good stuff to consider while we wait to see if it’s the case now but also what portends for when it does occur. Man knows not his time.

  10. Boy, I wish we had this problem!… Creepy Old Uncle Joe would still be a laughing stock; but, would not do the the damage King Ali Bama did. Maybe we could get Bibi as a temp or that King from Jordan; noww he’s got a set of onions too!

  11. I think the most logical explanation is a botched plastic surgery. There is nothing to suggest that Putin is not in control anymore, he is just not able to present himself in public. We will see, next time he re-appears.

  12. Wait………

    NSA would have a copy of everything on Hillary’s secret server….

    Ok.

    Never mind.

    Back to the Putin speculation.

  13. Hey Tom, enjoyed your interview on the John Batchelor Show (I listen to the podcasts). Your point was so strong and persuasive that my only source of confusion is why it isn’t so obvious and common-sensical to everyone, including this administration. I can’t understand how our side thinks they have a great negotiating strategy when their obvious position is “We’ll pay any price for a deal, just give us a deal!” Wouldn’t the last, lowest imbecile on the other side say, “We won’t give you a deal until you’ve paid us everything you’ve got”?

    Bonus points for the gratuitous slap at France.

    My only quibble is that you too jealously guarded your opinion by more or less proclaiming, “The opinion here is mine, all mine!” Whatever happened to sharing?